Everyone wants to grab their piece of the pie when it comes to market share. No matter the business model, we all need money to keep the doors open and the lights on. But the competition is fierce . . .
In 2015, the United States Small Business Association noted that 400,000 small businesses opened that year—and about the same number closed. (This number includes nonprofits.)
And launches present their own opportunities and challenges in the life of a small business. On one hand, they're often exciting, and a great chance to build buzz and get people's attention. On the other hand, they're usually short-lived, so you have to make them count because they may only happen once, annually, or at most, a couple times per year. So, if you have an event, product, fundraising or awareness campaign, book, or course launch on the horizon, pay close attention.
There are definite trends you want to ride when it comes to launches (ex: email sequences and social media blitzes), but you'll also need to be creative. Innovative ideas are more likely to make people take notice—and bring in the sales or donations.
Below you'll find 12 unique launches ideas worth copying. But, here's my caveat: don't just copy and paste. Put your own spin on them. They'll only be successful if they align with your own social enterprise or nonprofit.
Idea 1: Meet Ups
I was the Event Marketing Director for The Orange Conference for almost six years. And for several of those years, one of the ways we helped people get excited about it was to host local meet-ups all over the country. The catch: we didn't have staff all over the country. So, we let people in our tribe host them for us.
We hosted several here in Atlanta, as well as in locations across the US where we did have staff. But there were a lot of places we obviously couldn't reach on our own, and our fans were more than happy to jump in. They wanted to meet others like them in their hometowns, and we were thrilled they wanted to connect with each other. So, we provided downloadable flyers, social media images, guidance, and even allowed each gathering to give away a ticket to the upcoming event. So, whether people came to try and win a free ticket or to network with peers, we still got to help build community and talk about our event. It was a really fun way to get our fans involved.
Idea 2: Membership
It can be very difficult to get and sustain momentum for your launch when your entire business model rests on one, big event. Yellow Conference is one of those. Yes, they have a regularly-updated blog, social media, and things like that, but in a sea of events, blogs, and social media accounts, your message can get lost or forgotten, even by your fans.
One of the ways they fight through the noise is the Yellow Collective. It originally began as a subscription box, which I thought was very clever. In its second year, it has evolved into a membership group that includes many of the original elements: in-person, at home, and online resources. And it also includes discounted tickets to their annual conference. They've done a really great job at keeping their community connected throughout the year so that, when it's conference launch time, their fans are already primed and waiting.
Idea 1: Get Out of the Office
Sometimes all you need to do is change the scenery. For Atlanta Dream Center's "48 in 48" Campaign, the founder of the nonprofit lived on the streets for two days. One of their three primary ministries is focused on homelessness, so it made perfect sense with their mission.
And because the founder had the past, personal experience of being homeless, it magnified the story. He made the issue relatable and gave first-hand insight. Leading up to the event, a lot of buzz was generated among their supporters because it was not something you expected to see from the founder of an organization. During the 48 hours, he also did a lot of Facebook Live videos so people could follow his experience, and that generated additional donations once people saw it in action. He talked about his life, what he was seeing, and interviewed others on the streets with him. It was a brilliant way to shed light on their cause.
Idea 2: Shared, Uncommon Experiences
Similarly, Nicholas House has an annual fundraiser where their supporters can sleep outside in an effort to raise awareness about homelessness. Each participant is asked to raise $2,500, taking some of the annual fundraising off of the organization itself.
What I liked about this event, in particular, is that my friend who participated is a board member. Often, events like these attract more adventurous high school and college kids. But seeing adults with their own families involved was special. Yes, the environment is more controlled in this case than compared to above, but unless you're big on camping, sleeping outside on the ground without all the luxuries just isn't much fun. (At least in this girl's opinion.) And because of the individuals raising support, that provides more "social proof" for the organization because someone else is doing the talking, and her fundraising letter conveyed her heart and excitement for their work. That's not something you can force or buy.
Idea 1: Blog "Book Tour"
Unless you have the full might of a traditional publisher behind you, it can be difficult to get the word out about your book. And, even so, today's publishers want authors to take an active role in their own marketing. Enter the blog "book tour."
My friend Katrell, who owns Dr. Bombay's tea shop here in Atlanta, participated in one of these for her book. Even though it was set up by her publisher, it would be relatively easy to pull off. She didn't have a big name or a big audience, so this was a fantastic way to spread the word without a big budget to travel around the country to book signings and interviews. Instead, you'd just set up a series of book reviews or guest posts during a defined time period leading up to the book release, such as two or three months. This strategy definitely helped her sell books.
Idea 2: Galley Copies
If your social enterprise or nonprofit has one or more large events each year, you probably already know that it's best to release new products there, while you have a captive and engaged audience. But once-in-a-while, the timing just doesn't quite work out.
This was the case for the latest book by Growing Leaders about inspiring and mentoring today's students. So, what they decided to do was to give all 200+ attendees at their annual conference a galley copy of the book. This opportunity allowed them to talk about and promote the book, and build interest for it's release the following month. They also had a special pre-launch price with bonuses. Nothing replaces a face-to-face pitch, and by giving out galley copies, they were still able to capitalize on a live audience for future sales.
Awareness or Community-Building Campaign Launch
Idea 1: Recreate an Experience
Many of the causes that you all work on require you to protect those you help. Some of those include victims of sex trafficking, domestic violence, or even the homeless. Not only do you want to avoid capitalizing on someone else's tragedy, but you want to keep them safe.
Street Grace recently launched Suburban Horror Story as a way to accurately portray the issue of sex trafficking for the community. You can watch videos online that are recreations of actual events, and also learn more about the issue. They also had "tours" to houses where arrests had been made and to show them what traffickers, victims, and warning signs look like, and what actually happens. This gave those in attendance an up-close look at the problem, and showed them how they could be involved in the solution. It is a very effective way to talk about the people behind the issues without actually involving victims.
But just the quality (and frankly, scariness) of the website did a lot to stir up interest for people to take a tour, learn more, and get involved in the work of Street Grace, or even donate to their cause. So, make sure that even when you're actually promoting an in-person event, that the promotional materials, like the website, do a good job in drawing people into your cause, and make them want to get involved. This site did a fantastic job. They could've just splashed up a single page with with stats and a description, but they definitely took it further to great results.
Idea 2: Take Advantage of (or Declare) a Holiday
I've talked about the idea of taking advantage of holidays—both official and unofficial—on this blog and my newsletter before, but it's always important to bring it up again. Because there are so many to choose from! People love celebrating special occasions, so take note of any that you can work into your launch plan. It often gives you a new way to talk about what you're doing.
There are, of course, plenty of legit options like Christmas, Halloween, and Fourth of July that might play nicely with your launch. #GivingTuesday to kick off your year-end giving campaign, anyone? Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Black History Month, and White Ribbon Against Pornography are a few others. However, there are plenty of wacky observances as well. For example, you can try World Kindness Day, Adopt a Rescue Pet Day, Digital Detox Day, or Read a Book Day. (I can't remember if those are the exact names of those days, but they're pretty close. There is literally a day for just about anything you can think of.)
And there may be even times when you need to create your own holiday. When I worked at Captain Planet Foundation, we created a Captain Planet Day. We had a formal ceremony down at Atlanta's City Hall, received a proclamation, and the whole nine years. It was to celebrate a milestone in the foundation's history, but also garnered attention for the organization as we kicked off promotions for the annual fundraiser.
Idea 1: Giveaways in Contests
My friend, Jen, just wrapped her first successful Kickstarter for her physical product called the Hope Deck. One of the strategies she used to get attention for her campaign was by doing free giveaways on influencer social media accounts.
For example, she used both existing relationships and good ol' fashioned research to locate a handful Instagram accounts that fit her target market and were interested in doing a giveaway. She allowed them to give away a couple Hope Decks in exchange for pointing them to her account or campaign page. This allowed her to easily expand her audience, and when she was directly promoting that people fund the campaign, she had more eyes on what she was doing. It made a difference!
Idea 2: Giveaways for Reviews
This isn't really a new trick, but I'm surprised at how little it's used, so I thought I'd bring it back up. I think most of us feel we need to bootstrap everything and get by on our own, but why? Getting help is often way better. Now, I do know that people often launch in a rush and that may be a factor. (That is definitely one way to sabotage your launch!)
But when you can get someone else to talk about your launch—you should! Yes, sometimes you may have to pay people to review your product, but again, using existing relationships and research should also turn up plenty of free opportunities. There are so many blogs, magazines, newspapers, YouTube Channels, etc. A few of those leads are bound to work out.
A client and I recently talked about this because she's launching soon. (Can't divulge yet, but it's gonna be cool!) She thought she would have to pay for people to review or talk about her product, but I named a handful of people in just a few minutes who would do it for free. Just put your thinking cap on, and I bet you'll come up with your own list too.
Tip: We often want to target the Oprah's of the world so we can make it to the top faster, but these folks are just plain hard to reach. Find people with a few thousand followers, or depending on your product, up to 100K followers. Sometimes people get contacted very little so they're happy to participate. But often the "littler guys" rarely get contacted, would love to participated, and have a few thousand have very engaged fans who would love to hear about your product.
Idea 1: Facebook Groups
Facebook groups have become ALL. THE. RAGE. over the past couple of years. I even have one. But course creators are cleverly using them to their advantage now as well. Typically, they are meant to accompany an online course, or at least that's how I see a lot of those playing out. Especially when the courses are written or video-based, this allows the creator to interact with the students, and students to interact with each other. I am a member of a couple of these, and they're really fun.
But there are other ways to use them as well. Take the Myth of Balance, for example. Originally, it was released as a book. It's a very short, but actionable book. And, like most things, the information isn't the transformation—it's the action. So, the author created a Facebook Group to serve as the outlet for the course, which he refers to as a workshop series. Sample principles that I mentioned in the first paragraph, but much easier. He can release worksheets, weekly videos, polls and questions, etc, created right there to the group rather than having to build an online platform for the course. Much easier and more DIY.
In the Myth of Balance launch, we used a lot of traditional marketing techniques to get the word out initially. Most of the other course creators do the same. But the difference in having a Facebook Group is that you don't have people just sitting at home, having a great experience, and then moving on with their lives. You have people who've been interacting with the course creators and other students for a period of time, getting great results because they've had community and accountability built-in, and now you literally have a group of evangelists who will help you promote when you're ready to relaunch!
Idea 2: Involve Others and Let Them Promote
Putting a course or curriculum together is no joke. I plan to do it in the future, but find it overwhelming to think about. And then, when you have your shiny, new curriculum, you still have to get the word out! It's a long process.
But the folks at Plywood were really smart. They have a lot of knowledge and know-how on their staff. However, they also know one of their strengths relies in their ability to connect people and showcase others. So, for their video-based curriculum course, they featured not only the founder, but individuals from their Plywood People Community. Each module features different social entrepreneur interviews talking about that week's lesson and showing it in action.
Besides making it easier on themselves as far as content creation, Plywood now also has a group of people willing to help promote it because they are featured. This was especially helpful for the first launch when it was brand new. The people in the video are founders that are known in the Atlanta-area, with their own distinct audiences, so it helped get the word out quickly about this course.
By now you'll definitely notice a common theme in recruiting others to help you spread the word. It's just one of those techniques that can look so different each time, but is always effective.
What about you? What unique launch ideas have you come across? I'd love to hear them!
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.